Thomas Wigand: Camouflage Green
As reported in the Providence Journal on March 13: “A coalition of labor unions, environmental advocates and antipoverty groups are collaborating to promote legislation that would help spark new renewable-energy industries in Rhode Island. The group, which calls itself the Green Jobs Alliance, says it has come together to promote a ‘green economy’ that improves the environment while at the same time creates middle-class jobs.”
Neither the advance press release announcing the press conference regarding the rollout of this “Green Jobs Alliance,” nor the subsequent Providence Journal story, made mention of the national and international roots and affiliations of this alliance. So it is fair to posit that there was a deliberate attempt to make it appear that this is some sort of homegrown, spontaneous effort within Rhode Island. But as we shall see, this seems unlikely — which in turn begs the question as to why the organizers sought to downplay those affiliations.
The Sierra Club, which was at the Providence news conference, has been engaged in a “partnership” with the United Steelworkers of America called the “Blue-Green Alliance” since 1996. This alliance, on March 13–14 hosted a conference called “Good Jobs, Green Jobs: A National Green Jobs Conference” in Pittsburgh. The speakers list includes representatives from various labor unions and the leadership of the AFL-CIO, which certainly was known to another attendee at the Providence news conference, George Nee of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO [who, with the local Sierra Club, co-authored a commentary piece calling for building wind farms in Rhode Island that appeared in the Providence Journal on February 20th].
The Blue-Green Alliance is sponsoring green jobs initiatives that appear identical to the Rhode Island “wind energy” effort in various of the “rust belt” states (arguably Rhode Island is one of the leading states in the expansion of the “rust belt” to encompass not just the upper Midwest, but the Northeast, as well). While an expansion of wind and solar powered energy generation is probably a good thing, it is fair to presume that the “green jobs” that they propose to create will actually be in the nature of taxpayer financed public works projects rather than incubating new private sector industries. After all, not every state can become a “leader” in a new “green” manufacturing sector, though it appears that this is how it is being marketed in each state.
Organized labor loves public works projects because they are de facto “corporate welfare” for unions. This is done through what are called “prevailing wage laws” and “project labor agreements.” What these do is require public works projects (or private projects that get tax breaks) to pay union wages, the effect being that unionized contractors don’t have to compete in a true competitive bidding process, so the playing field is shifted in favor of the unions … while the taxpayers are locked in to paying a higher-than-market price for the projects.
It is not a stretch to believe that the unspoken agenda here is to push new taxpayer financed public works projects, albeit labeling them as “good for the environment” and “fostering new industries with good paying jobs.” After all, the Providence Place Mall and Route 95 projects are completed, so organized labor is no doubt on the hunt for new projects to fill the void.
Query whether Mr. Nee and the rest of organized labor would be willing, for the good of the environment, “to exempt such” green” projects from “prevailing wage” and “project labor agreements” so that they can be done at lesser cost, and so more of them can be completed. I think we all know the answer.
There is an international angle to this, as well. A group called the International Trade Union Confederation has involved itself with “global warming.” This group declares on its Web site that “together with its affiliates, its regional organisations, the Global Union Federations, as well as with non-governmental organisations, the ITUC carries out ongoing campaign action for the universal respect of trade union rights, as guaranteed by the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).” The ILO is an affiliate of the United Nations.
The Blue-Green Alliance and the ITUC are advocating for the use of trade agreements and treaties to advance a “green” agenda, including “protections” for “workers rights.” To the ITUC and ILO, “workers rights” is a euphemism for the government’s actively promoting union organizing and otherwise using its power to subsidize organized labor, such as eliminating workers rights to a secret ballot election by enacting statutory requirements allowing union organizers to collect “voluntary” signatures from workers (e.g., you can just imagine Teamster organizers collect “voluntary” signatures), and once a simple majority of employees have signed, imposing a union on the entire workforce. (Note that a simple majority of signatures would not be allowed to later decertify a union; rather, a secret ballot election would still be required for that.)
In fact, the 2007 ITUC “Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights” criticizes the United States for preserving an employer’s rights to demand a federally supervised secret ballot election for employees contemplating unionization and to conduct meetings with employees (on paid time) to explain to workers the employer’s position on unionization (otherwise known as First Amendment rights). The AFL-CIO’s single biggest legislative goal is to have enacted an Orwellianly named statute called the “Employee Free Choice Act” that would strip workers of secret ballot election protections (at least when bringing unions in).
It is not a stretch to imagine that organized labor simultaneously seeks to bypass the legislative process and advance this special-interest agenda by burying it within trade agreements and treaties marketed to the public as “green.” Ironically, the presence of such labor union special-interest terms might discourage emerging countries from entering into such trade agreements and treaties, thus actually inhibiting the “green” initiatives that are supposedly being advanced.
Certainly, advancing a “greener” economy is desirable. And there is nothing wrong with organized labor pushing its agenda, although it is a special interest. But neither is it wrong to recognize that there is much institutional self-interest going on here, and that organized labor’s green initiatives are predominately “camouflage green” intended to mask its pursuit of its own self interests under the halo of environmentalism.